Eva Brioschi and Giannantonio Morghen about Henri Chopin

Eva Brioschi: Could you say something about your collecting history and your passion for art?

Giannantonio Morghen: Since the early 1980s, I’ve been interested in everything that was considered avant-garde: Man Ray, Duchamp. I was especially obsessed with an artist from my region, Fortunato Depero. I’ve been up and down Italy and across the Atlantic on a hunt for his works, his essays, letters, and rare books thought destroyed by the Fascists. Now many of these rare documents are in the artist Ugo Nespolo’s collection. Then I started to focus on artists with whom I felt a closer connection, including my friendship with Francesco Conz, who helped me on this journey; likewise, Allan Kaprow, Emmett Williams [connected to the Fluxus movement], Milan Knížák, Giuseppe Chiari, and many others came to my house to visit me. And among all these artists there were two in particular who caught my attention and became life-long friends: Giuseppe Desiato and Henri Chopin. Thanks to them, I decided to build a collection that I called “Silent Avant-gardes”, which included, of course, works by them as well as by Carlo Belli, Josef Jarema, artists from Eastern Europe (“silent” because of the Iron Curtain), Giuseppe Chiari, and Bruno Munari. In a world driven by consumerism, I had the sense, or actually the certainty, that they could show us new ways towards a better world worth living in.

EB: How did you meet Chopin?

GM: I’ve been his friend for almost 30 years. He used to visit me often in Arco, and I also went to visit him several times, especially in the later years when he lived in Dereham, UK, with his daughter. Last time we met was one month before his death at my place. He was already very sick, and he knew that the end was near, but he didn’t want to talk about it with anyone. Unfortunately, he couldn’t achieve one of his goals to tell the complete story of his life, 4,000 pages to sum up is entire life, his work and all the people with whom he formed remarkable relationships [This project was started together with the Conz Archive in the late 1980s as a monumental multimedia autobiography which was meant to include audio material, texts, photographs, scores]. I think what’s left of all this material it is now archived at Yale.

EB: As you were close to him until his last days, what would you say is his cultural legacy? Do you think his message, his liberating power, his anarchist and Dionysian power have been fully understood?

GM: His experimentations along with ones by other sound poets certainly opened the way to many other artists who also used innovative technologies, but I doubt this was something that interested him. He had a technological view but was also cosmopolitan and humanistic. The sounds he pursued his entire life were a sort of universal language to him, a common ground that could link different communities and cultures [as opposed to language that he perceived as a kind of totalitarian rhetorical form, able to oppress the masses through the use of a dominant Logocentrism]. Henri Chopin was the only Zen artist I met in my life. I don’t want to say he was detached from the world. He was aware but pure and maybe this is why he couldn’t manage to express his creativity completely because he lacked the material means. Maybe if he had had more support from me and others… But in the end, he was not really in need of anything or anyone. He was a free spirit to the end of his life, affected by a healthy, incurable madness.

EB: Do you have any particular anecdotes or memories related to his artistic practice that could help us to get a sense of who he was?

GM: When I went to his house in the UK after he passed, I was amazed to find a sculpture that he had just finished before passing away: a myriad of antennas, a kind of spaceship, a huge vehicle he had made for himself to take that last long trip that he was about to start. Henri Chopin was an uncompromising man, driven by extreme freedom in his life as well as in his art. During World War II, he was deported to a concentration camp in Germany, and he managed to escape and find refuge as a cook in the Russian army. Then he traveled for 4 years through the Baltic countries to get back to Paris, where he found out that his family had been almost completely destroyed. His entire life was a matter of exiles, some voluntary, others forced, because of his political and social views, because of how he conceived life, always on a non-stop quest for the sounds that emanate freely and unstoppable from the body, vibrating in harmony with the universe. His disgust toward any kind of totalitarianism and religious dogma, his fight against consumerism and his desire to battle any form of oppression, made him very close to George Orwell, a very clear-eyed, visionary writer, just like he was. Though Chopin always had a very optimistic vision, he thought we would one day achieve a full democracy and social justice, whereas I feel closer to George Orwell’s pessimistic view.